Lenoir, N.C.-At first blush, one wouldn’t think that a big building with a whole bunch of computers whirring away in it would mean a whole lot to the political forces that govern a state.
But when that building is a $600 million data center built by Google, it tends to mean hundreds of new jobs in the local community. That’s what North Carolina Governor Michael Easley highlighted when he thanked the search vendor during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s new data center here May 21.
“This is important that Google is here and managing this right,” Easley told the 100 or so people who attended the ceremony. “We have a lot invested in this and this is a great county for you to be in.”
Easley and other state government officials said Google’s arrival in Lenoir was a boon in the wake of the roughly 250,000 layoffs of factory workers in the state.
North Carolina is renowned for its massive furniture factory industry, but the state was devastated by the closing of dozens of furniture-making plants from 2000 to 2003 thanks to foreign trade agreements with China and other nations, he said. North Carolina simply couldn’t compete with the lower cost structures and efficient distribution of overseas producers.
How it happened
Alan Wood, senior development manager for the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said he was looking for a solution when he fielded a call from the Department of Commerce in November 2005. Google was looking for a data center site where it would be able to use a lot of water and a lot of power, as well as about 150 acres of land.
Thanks to the work of Lenoir Mayor David Barlow, Wood and others, the town leaders were able to coax some 47 homeowners to give up their homes, said Herb Greene, chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners.
Google originally sent in an outside negotiating team, but the homeowners ran them out of town, Greene told eWEEK after the event. Google turned to the town leaders to negotiate with the homeowners.
“The people said, ‘I’ve lived here for 50 years but if it will help Caldwell County, I will sell my home,” Greene said. “It is that kind of attitude that has brought us to this place at this time this day.”
From there, the process snowballed and Google begin building on the site in 2006.
Mum’s the word
True to Google’s practice of nondisclosure about data center infrastructure, Google officials wouldn’t give up the goods on what’s inside the data center.
Andy Johnson, manager of global data center development for the company, declined to specify how many servers are in the facility or what vendors Google bought them from.
Johnson did say the data center, which appears to run at least the length of a football field, spanned about 100,000 square feet, nestled in the rolling hills of some 225 total acres.
He confirmed for eWEEK that the system will run Google’s vaunted distributed computing utilities, including the Bigtable database system, the MapReduce parallel processing application and the Google File System. These tools help power the company’s global search engine as well as megabyte-chomping applications such as Gmail.
The data center won’t be complete until the end of 2009, although Johnson said he expects to begin powering up search and applications for customers later in 2008.
No River Runs Through It
One notable detail was that the Lenoir data center does not sit on a riverbank the way many of its predecessors do to more easily draw water to cool the machines inside.
Tom Jacobik, Google operations manager for North and South Carolina (Google will be opening a similar facility soon in Goose Creek, S.C.), said Google pipes water in to cool the machines from the local reservoirs and other water supplies in the Catawba River valley. Ambient air and a location situated in the mountains also help cool the data center.
Asked what kind of steps Google takes in the area of green IT, Jacobik said Google limits the resources it uses whenever possible, including using “power-friendly servers.” He said he also dialed down the data center’s water consumption in 2007 when Caldwell County endured a drought.
Green or not, Google has at least a few dozen data centers all over the world, and these are allegedly home to 1 million or more servers total. This means the company is consuming unbelievable kilowatt numbers. This is the tradeoff: Google is providing thousands of jobs with these data centers, but at what cost to the environment?
As Google continues to wield its computing might across the world, building the machines and facilities to keep its $17 billion per year search ad business ka-chinging, the company will continue to strain electrical resources.
Google growth starts at the roots
Google wouldn’t say how many Caldwell County people are employed in the data center, although the company is mining the local IT talent from Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute.
An informal eWEEK poll during the barbecue after the event found that most of the workers are native North Carolinians. These workers included software and hardware infrastructure engineers, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) experts, electrical engineers, and data center custodians.
John Allie joined Google’s Lenoir data center as systems administrator six months ago and couldn’t be happier with the makeup of the company.
Allie, who was the IT manager of a midsize print manufacturing company in North Carolina before joining Google, said Google does a really good job of hiring talented people.
“Generally everybody you work with is as smart as you if not smarter,” Allie told eWEEK.